Kindred’s Special: Am I A Chessplayer?

As a young child I was lured to the game much the way most kids get attracted. The basic ideas and strategy were taught to the Reithel brood, I being the youngest, by my oldest brother Raymond who was a chess expert. We played each other in a variety of board games and had lots of fun but chess was the game we enjoyed most. I remember reading about the new pending magazine called CHESSWORLD (still have the copies, few as they are!) with all the faith in the world that it was destined to be extremely popular. It failed.

In the first issue Robert J. Fischer presented his list of the ten greatest chess players of all time: Morphy, Staunton, Steinitz, Tarrasch, Tshigorin, Alekhine, Capablanca, Spassky, Tal, and Reshevsky. And of course you can imagine the response!!

Lets look at the list and never mind his own comments when asked about his selection because he was never very good at explaining himself and often responded to queries with some rather odd replies. The group as a whole suggests to me a walk down the road of history. It also suggests that the list is partly a reflection of the contributions made by these individuals. He was especially criticised for naming Howard Staunton among the ten best.

As a kid I was always asking questions: How, What, When, Where and Why. It drove my teachers and family crazy sometimes I suspect. I was a rebel of sorts like the song about doing it my way. This seemed to stay with me throughout my life. For example my dad thought I should study music (sang bass in the school choir and he taught me to read music and to play drums. I also played the echo harp organ) and for exercise golf, tennis and helping him with farm chores. Dad was a professional musician and photoengraver. Games I did for fun and exercise. Chess was a waste of valuable time in his view. We were relaxing in the yard having lemonade that mom prepared towards the end of his life and he told me that I had  talent for the game and both of them were proud of my accomplishments in chess. “Maybe I  was wrong to try to push you into being like me.” I remember as vividly today as then and those words are really the only ones I remember of our conversations.

There has been extensive coverage of the list and I did considerable research on the group finding the contributions by Howard Staunton to be most lucidly penned by historians. For those who crave knowledge and a historical perpective about personalities and their effects on chess, read on and be enlightened.

Perhaps the most misunderstood player of all time was  Howard Staunton. Writer, player, organizer and visionary are terms to describe his genius. Born in 1810, he was thought to be the illegitimate son of Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle. He was largely self-educated being neglected as a child and had received at age 21 a few thousand pounds from his father’s estate. His love of writing and his passion for excellence brought him to the pinnacle in scholarship and personal reputation.

He possessed great passion for the theatre and he became acquainted with chess rather late by today’s standards not learning the game until he was in his early twenties. Hence forth he was devoted to both chess and Elizabethian drama.

A prolific writer, his literary works included:

  1. 1841-1862 Founded and edited The Chess Player’s Chronicle.
  2.  1845-1874 Chess column in the Illustrated London News.
  3. 1847            The Chess Player’s Handbook
  4. 1849           The Chess Player’s Companion 
  5. 1849           The Chess Player’s Text-Book
  6.  1852          Book of the Chess Tournament
  7. 1857-1860 Edition of Shakespeare in monthly parts
  8. 1860           Chess Praxis
  9. 1864           Reproduction of 1600 Quarto of Much Ado About Nothing
  10. 1865-1869 Owned and edited Chess World
  11. 1865 Great Schools of England
  12. 1866 Facsimile of the lst Folio of Shakespere
  13. 1866 Memorials of Shakespere
  14. 1872-1874 Series in the Athenaeum on “Unsuspected Corruption of Shakespere’s Text”
  15. 1876 Theory and Practice of Chess  

Staunton’s fame grew as an authority and English chess benefited by attracting many to Caissa. Upon his death, Queen Victoria gave his widow a pension based upon his many literary achievements aside from chess.

In Championship Chess, Sergeant notes that Staunton was content to be known as the best player in the world. The title of World Champion was eventually self claimed by Steinitz upon defeating Zukertort in their multi-city match in America.

His chess playing career started in earnest in 1836 at the age of 26. He frequented chess havens around London, steadily improving his game and knowledge. In 1840 he defeated Popert, a leading player in England, in a match. Within 2-years he was regarded as the leading player in England partly due to his skill at giving odds and for his writing talent. Then, in 1841-2 he bested by two to one in a long series of games John Cochrane who was supreme against England’s leading players except Staunton.

In 1843 a match between England and France was arranged between their champions Howard Staunton and St. Amant. It is difficult now to understand the importance of this great match up. Both countries were bitter generational enemies. The Battle of Waterloo was only 28 years earlier. France had been the top country in chess for over 100 years and now this relative upstart was challenging that supremacy.

How the match came about is interesting. Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant had used his own magazine to boast of beating England’s Staunton in six games 3-2-1 at the St. George’s Club (Staunton said they were just casual games for one guinea a game) and St. Amant was asserting he was the top player due to his triumph. At that, Staunton challenged St. Amant to a match recognized as being between England and France of 21 or 41 games to be played for a stake of either 50 or 100 guineas each.

Arrangements were made and agreed upon for 21 games with a purse of 100 pounds a side. It was to begin on November 14th 1843 in Paris, France. Eleven wins would decide the winner.

What drama! One can imagine the 6’3″ St. Amant, a prosperous wine merchant, having a host of supporters congregated waiting for Staunton, a big, bright, bustling individual with two seconds accompanying him from England. Staunton was noted for his bulk and large head and he appeared confident when entering the playing area.

There can be no doubt that Staunton was starting at a disadvantage. Picture this: A room full of spectators, most seated and those close by standing next to the board. With each turn there were vocal expressions with occasional applause at the moves played mostly by their champion. And the nature of the games were different from today. The lst move could be played by either black or white. Rules were not changed officially until 1929! when white always makes the lst move in a game.

The first time St. Amant tried black on opening was the 5th game and he lost a tough battle by Staunton’s superior pawn play. He had to wait until the 9th game before winning when Staunton made a mistake on his 32nd move.

Certainly match conditions were not healthful and Staunton came down severly ill from it catching pnemonia and developing a heart condition from which he never fully recovered.

The final game lasted 14-hours when St. Amant resigned on the 66th move. The final score of the 21-game match was Staunton 11, St. Amant 6 and with 4 games drawn. This was truly a match which might be a spark of how eventual championship matches were to take place.


The lst game saw St. Amant taking the white pieces and opening with his favorite 1.e4 and Staunton defended with the Sicilian Defense.

             St. Amant                  vs              Howard Staunton

             White           Sicilian Defense             Black

1.e4  c5  2.f4  e6  3.Nf3 Nc6.

These opening moves seemed to be a favorite of St. Amant.

4.c3  d5  5.e5  Nh6  6.Na3  Be7  7.Nc2  f5  8.d4  0-0  9.Be2  Bd7  10.0-0  Rc8  11.Kh1  cxd4  12.cxd4  Nf7.

Aiming to play g5 so white reacts to prevent that.

13.Rg1  Kh8  14.g4  fxg4  15.Rxg4  Nh6  16.Rg3  Be8  17.Bd3  Bh5  18.Qg1  Bh4  19.Nxh4.

Had he played 19.Rh3  Bg4 20.Nxh4 Bxh3.

19…Qxh4  20.Ne1.

Staunton recommends 20.Qg2 as more apropos here.

20…Nb4  21.Bd2.

Again somewhat questionable; better would be Ng2. Kibitzers suggested 21.Bf1 but then Rxc1! is a pleasant shot that wins.

21…Nxd3  22.Rxd3  Bg6.

An excellent diagonal for the bishop! It increases square count and carries with it numerous potential threats.

23.Qg3  Qh5  24.Rb3  Qe2!

Coming into thy guts to look around.

25.Qe3  Qf1+  26.Qg1  Be4+.

There are just too many threats. White could safely resign but battles on perhaps for appearance sake.

27.Rf3  Bxf3+  28.Nxf3  Qxf3+  29.Qg2  Qxg2+  30.Kxg2  Rc2 31.Rd1  Rxf4  32.Kg3  Rxd4  33.Bxh6  Rxd1  (0-1). White resigns.

This shocking defeat at the hands of Staunton who arrived by sailing ship from England ready to do battle and facing a rather hostile environment makes one wonder if the mere fact that St. Amant was playing with his admirers looking on had the light turned off when Staunton upstaged the opening act.

I present here game 2 of the match and will present additional games if interest is shown as I have the complete set of battles.

                 Howard Staunton          vs     St. Amant

                       White                               Black

1.d4  c5  2.d5  f5

This somewhat bizarre defense derived from Benoni, oder Vertheidigungen die Gambitzilge im Schache, &c. Von Aaron Reinganum, Frankfort, 1825. St. Amant perhaps was looking to surprise Staunton but he was up to the task.

3.Nf3  d6  4.Nc3  Nf6  5.Bg5  e5  6.e4  a6.

St. Amant devoted 17 minutes to deciding on this and also when he played move 8 a total of 19 minutes.

7.exf5  Bxf5  8.Nh4  Bc8  9.Bd3  g6  10.0-0  Be7  11.f4  c4.

This was a good move but he misses the right idea.

12.Bxc4  exf4?!

Black misses a chance to play Qb6+ which would increase square count and relieve some of the problems of defense. St. Amant had to think about f5 coming was reasonable.

13.Rxf4  Nbd7  14.Qd4!

Centralization of the Queen!

14…Ne5  15.Re1  Nfd7  16.Bxe7  Qxe7  17.Ne4  Rf8  18.Rxf8+ Qxf8.

Perhaps slightly better was Kxf8 when I can find nothing better than 19.Qf2+ maintaining a slight edge.

19.Nxd6+ Kd8.

Black could capture with Qxd6 but 20.Nf3 snips off the N on e5 as the Knight is pinned and cannot be adequately protected from capture.

20.Rxe5  Qxd6  21.Re3  Kc7 22.Bb3.

Freeing the c-pawn to advance and take part in the operations.

22…a5  23.Nf3  Nf6  24.c4  b6  25.Ne5  a4  26.Bc2  a3  27.Nf7  Qc5  28.Qf4+  Kb7  29.b4  Nh5  30.Nd8+  Ka6  31.bxc5  Nxf4 32.Rxa3 checkmate.



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